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Simon Michael

CORRUPTED . . . Between the covers.

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Corrupted is the fourth novel in the 1960s London crime series written by Simon Michael. Its predecessors were The Brief (2015), An Honest Man (2016) and The Lighterman (2017). Each has, as its central character, Charles Holborne. Corrupted is good – very good – but let’s first take a look at the real life events which form the backdrop to the story.

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Whichever definition you choose, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Kray twins and their misdeeds have become the stuff of legend. The villains who were minor fragments in their constellation have made an honest living – of a sort – by producing ghost-written autobiographies. There are popular websites which are nothing more than broadside ballads featuring the Bethnal Green brothers. The real life twins Gary and Marin Kemp played them on the wide screen, as did – more convincingly – a doppleganger Tom Hardy. They even appeared, as the Piranha Brothers, in a Monty Python sketch, although some would argue that this owed more to the equally diabolical Richardson brothers, inimical foes of Reg and Ron from south of the river. Authors such as Jake Arnott and John Lawson have used the twins in novels, and Simon Michael has added his four penn’orth with his Holborne stories.

Holborne was born Horowitz, son of an East End Jewish tailor. After an adventure-strewn youth working as a lighterman on the bustling River Thames in post-1945 London, he has become a successful barrister, having anglicised his name to smooth his way through the distinctly sniffy – and anti-semitic – world of London’s law chambers. Existing readers of the series will know that our man has already crossed swords with the dangerous and vengeful Krays.

CorruptedIt is 1964, and Alec Douglas-Home’s Conservative government is on its last legs. The sex scandals which brought down his predecessor Harold Macmillan may have faded, but another one threatens to be just as explosive. Holborne is persuaded to defend a teenage boy accused of murdering one of the Krays’ stooges, but the fact that the youngster is what we would now call a rent boy sees Holborne accused of bringing his chambers into disrepute.

As Holborne digs deeper into the affair, he realises he is touching the tip of a scandal which, if exposed, will have devastating political consequences. The fact that important figures in both the Conservative party and the Labour opposition are involved means that the barrister is pitting himself not just against Reg and Ron Kray, but the entire British establishment.

Corrupted is a brilliant piece of historical crime fiction, and the court room scenes, which are both intriguing and authentic, are informed by Simon Michael’s career and experience as a barrister in the criminal courts. Many real life figures play a part in the drama: the Krays – particularly the psychotic Ron – are totally convincing; Bob Boothby and Tom Driberg, both dripping corruption, send a shiver of revulsion down the spine, while the larger-than-life figure of Lord ‘the Blessed Arnold’ Goodman is horribly oily and manipulative.

SM-boxing-gloves-2-278x300Charles Holborne is a powerful and attractive central figure, but he is far from perfect. His chaotic private life reveals both passion and weakness. His judgement of human character also leaves something to be desired, as Simon Michael (right) shows, with a delicious and unexpected plot twist in the final pages of the novel. Corrupted is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 21st June.

Simon Michael’s website is here, and you can follow the link to read the Fully Booked review of The Lighterman

 

ON MY SHELF, MAY 2018 . . . Kent, Michael, Weaver & Wignall

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AFTER A BLISSFUL – AND VERY HOT WEEKEND IN FRANCE – where sun cream and hay fever tablets were de rigeur, it’s back to a very cold earth with a bump. Maybe a squelch would be more accurate. Today is the fabled first day of May, and last night the central heating was on full blast, and my over-confidence that the electric blanket could be laundered and stowed away for the season was severely punished. Still, there are always books to keep me warm, even if they look destined to be read curled up on the sofa in a warm room rather than under the verandah with an ice-tinkling glass of something cold and juniper tinged close to hand.

WHAT WE DID by Christobel Kent

WWDTeachers taking advantage of their unique position of trust is nothing if not topical, and few teachers can become so connected to their pupils’ progress and personality as music teachers. In Christobel Kent’s latest domestic thriller we meet Anthony Carmichael, one such person. The student he abused has now grown up and married. Bridget has a loving husband, a delightful son, and a business that demands her full attention. When Carmichael reappears, the fences protecting her comfortable life are torn down, and events take a sinister turn. Published by Sphere, What We Did is out on 17th May.

CORRUPTED by Simon Michael

CorruptedCharles Holborne is a brilliant and successful barrister specialising in criminal cases, and his work brings him into contact with the most corrupt and manipulative people in 1960s London. It will be no surprise to learn that these characters are not all associates of the notorious Kray twins, but men and women who are normally seen on the other side of the justice system. The deeply psychotic Ronnie Kray has already had a terrifying influence on Holborne’s life, and if the barrister thought that the episode was over, he is very much mistaken as he becomes involved in a sex scandal that threatens the very government of the country itself. Corrupted is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 21st June. I was very impressed with an earlier novel in the Charles Holborne series, The Lighterman, and the review can be read here.

YOU WERE GONE by Tim Weaver

YWGTim Weaver’s investigator David Raker is now a well established member of fictional PI royalty in British fiction, and he is just that little bit different. His speciality is finding people – whether they wish to be found or not. This is the ninth in the series and, with existing fans well aware that Weaver is a master of plot surprises, readers new to the series are presented with another audacious premise. Raker’s late wife – repeat late wife – reappears and accuses him of faking her disappearance and death. With the police suspecting him of the crime, Raker is faced with a baffling conundrum which will ruin him if he fails to find the answers? Is this woman a clever and convincing opportunist, or does the solution lie in a breakdown of his own sanity? I have been a fan of the Tim Weaver/David Raker partnership for a good while – read why  by checking out my review of I Am Missing. The latest case for David Raker is out on 17th May and is  published by Michael Joseph.

TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall

TDIVIt seems there is nowhere quite like Vienna for mystery, intrigue and international back stabbing – both literal and figurative. For so long the major crossroads between East and West, the Austrian city once again is the backdrop to a dangerous game of bluff and counter bluff and deception. Freddie Makin is a surveillance expert who is paid to watch ‘people of interest’ and report back to his paymasters. His problem is that this a risky profession; powerful people are likely to feel threatened, and when their discomposure reaches a certain level, they will lash out. After following a suspected Chinese intelligence agent, Makin is now the hunted man. Who is trying to kill him? What has he learned that has pushed his name to the top of the kill list? Thomas and Mercer are publishing To Die In Vienna on 14th June.

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THE LIGHTERMAN … Between the covers

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I’ll have to come clean, declare an interest, turn out my pockets and put my hand up. Having now run out of colloquialisms I will state that I am sucker for books set in London. Leaving aside the great storytellers of the distant past, my shelves are stacked with the Bryant & May stories by Christopher Fowler, John Lawton’s masterly Fred Troy novels, the bleak and compelling Factory novels by Derek Raymond, and the Peter Ackroyd journeys through a London where the past has a mystical effect on the present. It will be no surprise then when I admit to being hooked from the very beginning of The Lighterman by Simon Michael.

Our first view of London is in 1940 and from several thousand feet above. It is through the eyes of a Luftwaffe pilot. From the cockpit of his Dornier 215, he watches as the bomb aimer releases its deadly payload on the helpless Londoners. This opening chapter is a skillful – and terrifying – piece of descriptive writing, but it also introduces us to the man who will be the chief character in the book. Charles is the elder son of Harry and Millie Horowitz, respectively tailor and milliner of British Street, Mile End. He is twelve years old, and he and his family survive the bombs relatively unscathed.

TLWhen we next meet Charles it is 1964, and much has changed. The streets of the old East End, having been substantially rearranged by Hitler’s bombs, have been redeveloped. More significantly, the Jewish people have largely moved on. Many families have prospered and they have moved out to the comfortable suburbs. Charles Horowitz has also prospered, after a fashion. His chosen career is Law, and in order to rise through the ranks of the socially and ethnically tightly knit Inns of Court, he has abandoned Horowitz and reinvented himself as Charles Holborne.

At this point, the author reminds us that Charles has a back-story. The two previous novels in the series, The Brief (2015) and An Honest Man (2016) are there SM booksfor those who want to complete the picture, but with The Lighterman it is sufficient to say that Charles has made a very undesirable enemy. It is probably merely an exercise in semantics to distinguish between the equally awful twin sons of Charles David Kray and Violet Annie Lee, but most casual observers agree that Ronnie was the worst of two evils. The homosexual, paranoid and pathologically violent gangster has a list of people who have upset him. The first name on that list is none other than Charles Holborne aka Horowitz, and the brutal East End hoodlum is determined that Charles must be done away with.

Charles finds himself forced into defending a man on what seems to be a cut-and-dried charge of murder. If he wins the case, then Ronnie Kray’s rage will be incandescent; if he loses, then someone close to his heart will go to the gallows.

SMSimon Michael (left) combines an encyclopaedic knowledge of London, with an insider’s grasp of courtroom proceedings. I cannot say if it was the author’s intention – only he can concur or disagree – but his writing left me with a profound sense of sadness over what London’s riverside and its East End once were – and what they have become. This is a beautifully written novel which succeeds on three different levels. Firstly, it is a superb recreation of a London which is just a lifetime away, but may as well be the Egypt of the pharaohs, such is its distance from us. Secondly, it is a tense and authentic legal thriller, with all the nuances and delicate sensibilities of the British legal system pushed into the spotlight. Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – we meet characters who are totally convincing, speak in a manner which sounds authentic, and have all the qualities and flaws which we recognise in people of our own acquaintance. The Lighterman is published by Urbane Publications and is available here.

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